I am a giant fan of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series. Even though the first game was not great, I squeezed a huge amount of enjoyment out of it by letting myself become immersed in the game’s world and story. As a history major in college, and a gamer, a series with the world AC was presenting was too much to resist. I was hooked from moment one and have happily played every mainline entry in the series. While not every game was an absolute hit on part with AC2, Brotherhood, or AC4, most were at the very least okay, very playable. However I worry about the future of the series if it intends to make more games like Assassin’s Creed: Unity. While it still had the nuts and bolts of what makes an AC game fun, it was bogged down by way too much new stuff that didn’t work to be an enjoyable entry in the series. Let’s go into why this game was lacking, but first, a little disclaimer.
Little Disclaimer: I bought Assassin’s Creed: Unity on launch day, and yes it was a technically broken mess. I put it down for a while and waited until it was fixed. This review will be purely about how the game plays now, on the date of the review, not how it launched. While that was a mess that really should not be repeated by any game, it is done and over with now.
Okay, so let’s talk about some positives first. ACU is gorgeous. Easily the best looking Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Even on my 720p TV, everything looks highly detailed, the crowds are lush, and frankly very busy. The buildings that make up Revolutionary Paris are beautifully detailed, both inside and out. When you get down to it, Assassin’s Creed: Unity looks like a “next-gen” game. While Black Flag looked great in its own right, no matter which generation you played it on, Unity has the depth of field, lively crowds, and subtle lighting that was simply not possible on the last generation of hardware.
While running through the stunning rendition of Paris, the game also takes the time out to deliver some fun missions, and a decent (for the most part) story. Mission structure is usually unchanged from previous AC games, with you running someplace to kill someone or steal something while rubbing elbows with everyone from the particular time period that mattered. Of course you meet Napoleon, maybe while also on a mission for Madame Tussaud, that is just the way this series has worked since AC2. While nothing is particularly improved, there is nothing wrong either. The only place where I can say this really differs is in the co-op missions. But really it only differs in that you have more people with you (for better or worse) when doing these things.
The story, while not as light-hearted as Black Flag, is still pretty good, carried mostly by the excellent character in Arno Dorian. He has just enough of that snark and whimsy in how he goes about his job that he is able to keep from being the dour killjoy Connor from AC3 was. Unfortunately, as good as Arno is, he’s still no Ezio. Like many Assassin’s Creed games before it, Unity is mainly a revenge tale, set in the boundaries of a shadow war between forces favoring total order and chaos. This part of the story is somewhat odd for the series as it shows the Assassin’s and the Templars in a sort of cease-fire, with both sides seemingly dealing with issues in their own order. That is until Arno’s comes in and wrecks everything, leading to what appears to be a resuming of hostilities.
However, where the story falls flat is showing how this conflict set in the late 1700’s matters in the modern day. AC games, since the first one have used a modern day side story to give broader context as to how all of this stuff in the past we’re seeing matters. While the main arc of the modern day plotline ended in Assassin’s Creed 3, Black Flag still gave us something that tried to advance that plotline along, even if slightly. Unity can barely be bothered to think of this part of the series at all. While we are given some flimsy stuff at the start of the game, and a few new missions that have Arno traveling through different time periods to escape Templar…computer police I guess, barely any attention is given to the modern day aspect of the game. We are never given any justification for doing anything in Revolution France, and not to spoil the ending, but the game basically says “Screw you” at the end, and there is no pay off. None. It’s actually angering. When I had completed the story, I found myself pouring through the in-game encyclopedia, trying to see if I missed anything. I looked around for new missions on the map, and nope, nothing.
Then again, the map of AC: Unity is so beyond cluttered with a pointless amount of time-wasting collectables that I may have just missed the missions that give the story a proper, tied-up ending. Looking like a crazy person designed this interface, the only hope you have of actually seeing an icon on your map, and distinguishing it from all the other icons is to zoom in pretty much all the way. Even changing the options to only displaying certain types of icons barely helps as the map tends to be still so dense. You would think this would be great for a large, open world game. However Ubisoft found the other side of that assumption, and came out of it all covered in collectable crap gluttony.
There are no less than 4 types of treasure chest in the game, one of which only accessible by engaging with the overly annoying mobile companion app. A bloated and poorly made mess, this is the opposite of what Black Flag’s companion app was, and is a disheartening prospect of things to come. The app itself is gross, but it is only the tip of the meta-engagement iceberg. It is unfortunately also the least offensive aspect of this. Next up on the list was going to the AC Initiates website integration, which didn’t ever work, and was aborted entirely by Ubisoft. It acted as something of a consumer loyalty program, giving rewards in Unity for doing “Challenges”, but tons of points coming from owning more AC products. Luckily this was done away with.
However, Ubisoft just couldn’t stay away. Coming in as the worst thing ever in an Assassin’s Creed title, enter the Helix Points. These are points you use to buy or improve items in game, and you buy these points with real money. The largest bundle for these Helix Points comes in at $100, with is more than the game was with the season pass. Disgusting and naked in its cash grab, AC: Unity wants you to drop tons of real money on items used in what is mostly a single-player game. Once you finish the game, you put it down, and walk away from the experience poorer for however much money you wasted throwing into Animus Paris on top of the full cost of this retail game. This doesn’t even get the excuse of being free to start, they want your $60 up front, then they want you to drop more and more. It’s absolutely disgusting and I cannot help but wonder if cash flow was slowed down so people would be more inclined to buy Helix Points to accommodate the horrible gear system.
While not as gross as the Helix Points themselves, the gear system introduced into AC: Unity is definitely worth mentioning. Helix Points can be ignored if one is willing to put in some extra time to get in-game money. However, Arno will need to be dressed up like a murderous Ken doll way too often. The AC franchise is no stranger to upgrading gear, which is usually just in the form of weaponry and armor, which adds health. However, Ubisoft went full RPG, allowing you to min/max a variety of stats, geared toward “Your Playstyle.” I am sorry folks, but my playstyle was to play this Assassin’s Creed game like an Assassin’s Creed game. This dumb idea of playing as some heavy, two-handed weapon wielding tank, or a completely stealthy, disguise-using rogue never getting even seen just isn’t tenable. The game’s systems have not changed enough from previous titles to make it so either.
This system isn’t helped by the fact the gear is often expensive, requiring you to grind out some money (or buy Helix Points!) or go into battle with sub-standard stuff. Unlike previous games, where combat felt mostly determined by your ability to counter and kill quickly, Unity feels mostly gear dependent, like I am playing WoW. This isn’t the way these sorts of games should handle, and I hope Ubisoft ditches this system as fast as it possibly can. They even advise you to gear up during missions if you’re found wanting in that area. It’s not a great message to get.
I have spent the last 1500 words explaining why one of my favorite series of the last generation has greatly disappointed me. Despite the myriad of flaws this game has, I still cling to hope that Ubisoft is able to change direction with Assassin’s Creed: Victory and run away from things like Helix points, and overly-bloated maps filled with pointless collectables. The many people who touch this series are capable of making good games, we have seen them, we have played them, and we enjoyed them. Really this game should only be purchased by the most diehard AC fans, and even then those people should probably wait for a sale. Your fans deserve better Ubisoft, Assassin’s Creed deserves better.
Final Score: 2/5